John Foxe makes various claims in his Acts and Monuments about what he is doing and why. His various prefaces, dedicated to all types of potential reader (the learned Protestant; the learned Roman Catholic; the unlearned; the Queen etc) make this explicitly clear.
I’m currently writing a chapter where I hope to introduce what it was Foxe thought he was doing when researching the pre-reformation portions of his book. Historians say many things about it over and over again (and I’m sure I will be as well, although hopefully I’ll have a few new things to say as well), but essentially Foxe is purporting to be writing the true history of Christianity and Britain’s role within it.
I highlight the word ‘true’ for a purpose, not just because this is what all historians claim to be doing, especially those in the sixteenth-century who wanted to convince their readers of the validity of their theological argument equally as much as their credentials as an historian, but because Foxe was making the argument for a revised past; one very different than the traditionally held story. He was equally making the case for the uplifting of the most popular sources for that history – Foxe used Ranulf Higden’s fourteenth century Polychronicon sparingly because it was the culmination of the monastic tradition. He attacked Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia at every opportunity because he was Italian and because he had offended England’s antiquarians by discrediting their origin stories. In reverse, Foxe lifted up Robert Fabyan’s London Chronicle and Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majoria as alternative and relatively purified sources.
All of this Foxe makes clearer in one paragraph that sums up the entire argument and sets up the need, Foxe claims, for the Acts and Monuments as a ‘complet history’ which was to be ‘faithfully collected out of all our Monasticall writers and written Monumentes’ and which ‘should open the plaine truth of times lying long hid in obscure darknes of antiquitie’:
‘For as they paint him out on the one part glistering in wealth & glory, in showing what succession they Popes had from the chaire of S. Peter, when they first began, and how long they sate, what Churches and what famous buildings they erected, how farre their possessions reached, what lawes they made, what counsels they called, what honor they receaved of kinges & Emperours, what Princes and countreys they brought under their authoritie, with other like stratagemes, of great pompe and royaltie: so on the other side what vices these Popes brought with them to their seat, what abominations they practized what superstition they maintayned, what Idolatrie they procured, what wicked doctrine they defended contrary to the expresse word of God, to what heresies they fell, into what division of sectes they cut the unitie of Christan religion, how some practized by Symonie, some by Necromancy, and sorcery, some by poysoning, some endenting with the devill to come by their Papacy, what hypocrisie was in their lives, what corruption in their doctrine, what warres they raysed, what bloudshed they caused, what trachery they traversed against their Lordes and Emperours, imprisoning some, betraying some of the templaries and Saracens, in bringing other under their feete, also in behedding some, as they did with Fredericus and Conradinus, the heyres and offspring of the house of Fredericus Barbarossa .an. 1269: furthermore how mightely almighty god hath stand against them, how their warres never prospered against the Turke, how the judgements of the godly learned from time to time have ever repugned agaynst their errours &c. of these and a thousand other moe, not one word hath bene touched’
This is a long quote, but it nicely summarises what Foxe sees as the true History. I am yet to decide if I’ll be using it whole in my final text or whether it would be best to break it down into parts, but I think what Foxe is saying here is important to understanding what it is he is trying to say in the Acts and Monumentsas a whole.